Lawyers tussle over evidence

Murder defendant Michelle Knotek confers with one of her three attorneys, Scott Harmer of South Bend. Harmer protested Tuesday in court that he and defense investigators still have not received evidence logs from the Monohon Landing crime scene.

SOUTH BEND - Disposition of the Knotek residence, a neatly kept house and pole building on Monohon Landing Road in Raymond, provided a battle ground in Pacific County Superior Court Tuesday.

New details about evidence and the crime scene emerged from testimony and a few heated exchanges between attorneys.

The focus of contention was whether to release the crime scene and to cease providing round-the-clock security at county expense. Sheriff John Didion has sought release since Aug. 15, when defense attorneys for Knotek argued successfully that they needed time at the crime scene to gather their own evidence.

Accused murder suspect Michelle Knotek's attorney, Scott Harmer of South Bend, complained bitterly in court Tuesday that the county had still not complied with his request for a detailed evidence log from the Knotek residence. Instead, his office had received general information with no explanations or descriptions. 'All I asked for Friday was a list of the evidence taken from the scene," he said.

Examples of entries provided to defense attorneys so far, according to Harmer, were "miscellaneous papers and suicide notes." County Prosecuting Attorney David Burke said he had no additional information about the notes and denied after the court session knowing their author or the circumstances.

Harmer said the entries on the lists of evidence provided by the sheriff's office showed a lack the "specificity" that would allow a meaningful search by defense investigators. Until such a list is provided, Harmer argued the crime scene needed to remain secure.

Investigators representing the defense "spent about two hours at the Knotek house early Thursday afternoon," Harmer said Friday in court. But without evidence lists, he said the defense had no idea what had been taken from the scene. He called it "the height of hypocrisy" that the sheriff's office would take so long to process evidence on one hand, but the prosecutor would say the case in general was not unlike any other when reasoning the crime scene should be released.

"We've given them everything we can," Burke said in court Friday and Tuesday. He said multiple agencies have been involved with processing evidence in this case, all generating their own reports. The prosecutor promised to provide all the information available as he receives it.

Deputy Pat Lynn, chief investigator on the case, testified that there were approximately 1,200 items of evidence from the scene to be processed. Lynn told Judge Joel Penoyar that his team of six investigators had finished about 700 items and would be done cataloguing the evidence by "Wednesday night." Penoyar directed that the lists be turned over to defense counsel as soon as they are available.

New information emerged about the grounds of the residence. The judge asked Lynn whether there was clutter at the crime scene. Lynn replied that "the digging was done behind the house. Nothing is visible from the front." He said there was a "dirt pile on the side and one excavation two-to-three feet deep," about 15 feet wide and 10 feet long. Lynn stated there were "two smaller holes left open."

Penoyar granted the prosecutor's request to release the crime scene effective 9 a.m., Wednesday, Aug. 27. He authorized extending county funding at a reduced rate for securing the scene through 9 a.m., Monday, Sept. 1, The defense will likely use the money to hire its own private guards.

Security at the crime scene, Sheriff Didion said in testimony Tuesday, costs more than money. Aside from the "extreme fiscal impact on he county," the real danger is in decreased staffing levels for law enforcement.

"We have been forced to single staff for most shifts," he said. Back-up for violent incidents is on-call rather than on the street. The sheriff said one recent incident involved a "homeowner holding an intruder at gun point for 45 minutes" before an officer could respond. Penoyar's ruling should mitigate the staffing emergency in time for the increased demands of Labor Day and Rod Run weekend in Long Beach.

Penoyar's ruling now will be reviewed by the judge in Michelle Knotek's husband's case. David Knotek pleaded "Not Guilty" Monday in separate proceedings. Burke said the cases are moving together and spent the afternoon Tuesday making the same arguments about releasing the crime scene to David Knotek's judge.

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